Actor and comedian Ken Hall as Pogo in The Umbrella Academy. Source: Netflix

Ken Hall has won the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Breakout Artist, as well as multiple Canadian Comedy Award nominations.

Aside from that, his jump into film and television has landed him with many titles under his belt, including Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and Polar, just to name a few.

We were given an amazing opportunity to ask him a couple questions about his background in improv comedy, as well as his prominent roles in Netflix properties.

How did you get your start in comedy?

I’ve always been a huge fan of comedy growing up. There was a very iconic Canadian show called SCTV with a lot of alumni from the Second City, which is one of the word’s largest schools of improv and sketch comedy that we have here in Toronto. So growing up I was very influenced by that show.

Second City Television was a Canadian sketch comedy show. Source: New York Times

I never really made that connection that “Oh I’m gonna be a comedian”. That was just something very distant, but I discovered improv when I was about 29 or 30. I got into it later in life, and I had never done any theatre or anything like that, even though it was something I was really excited about, I was always a pretty shy and scared person growing up. 

For a variety of reasons, I wanted to make a big difference in my life and do something creative in my late twenties. As soon as I found that, I never stopped. Those principles of improvisation I learnt very quickly about saying “yes” in improv scenes or exercises helped me say “yes” to other things in life, and in doing so, I opened up more opportunities for other parts of my life. This was something really exciting for me, and for whatever reason I was making people laugh. It just felt really good to me and it’s been such a great constant for me.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start stand-up comedy?

I would say give it a shot. It’s a scary thing because it’s a form of public speaking, and it’s quite challenging because you’re standing up in front of people and trying to make them laugh. But there’s also the fun challenge of doing that. How you approach stand-up or comedy specifically is that you have got something to say, and you have a cool way of looking at things. Just having some faith that if you are able to share what’s funny for you, and if it makes you laugh, chances are it will probably make an audience laugh as well. 

If you never do it, it’s never gonna happen. So just give it a shot, and so much of my career and training is to be okay with failure and risking failing, especially in front of other people. The more you can be comfortable with doing that, the more you develop a really thick skin, and you can laugh at yourself. If you have a joke that doesn’t work, well that’s okay because there’s other jokes.

If anyone out there wants to try something, then absolutely just give it a shot. You have nothing to lose.

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Ken Hall at the Vancouver Improv Festival. Source: Ken Hall

How different do you find filming with a script? Do you find your ability to improvise curbed or do you still sneak some bits in?

Improvising is definitely my strong suit and it’s what I feel the most comfortable with. It’s funny when I’m actually handed the script, I feel a lot more inhibited. So when the script has much more nuance that I have to be more aware of, I need to reflect it back in an honest, authentic and real way. 

That being said, I have been using improv ever since I started doing film and TV. I do it for auditions, and for example at the end of a scene, I’m like “Well I’ve said the script, I can go off and the stuff I say is usually comedic in nature. So quite often, I can get in a little zinger out there, and you know I’ve been pleasantly surprised that stuff that I’ve improvised in an audition or on set actually made it into the final cut. It’s always a nice feeling to know that you, in essence, wrote that part. It’s also nice to work with directors and casts that are very comfortable with that, and even seek that out.

So, in People Of Earth, you had to wear a prosthetic costume. When you compare that with the motion capture work for Pogo in The Umbrella Academy, which would you prefer? The prosthetics or motion capture?

To wear a motion capture suit is easy because it’s fit to your measurements, so it takes you two seconds to get in. Not only is it two hours to get the big prosthetic suit on, but then you literally have to wear it for the entire day (14 to 16 hours sometimes), and of course afterwards there’s that time to take it off. 

A behind the scenes look at Ken Hall’s motion capture work as Pogo. Source: Ken Hall

There’s nothing better at the end of the day when you can take it off and smell fresh air again, it’s very exciting. That being said, I love doing prosthetics, and it’s such a fun thing pretending to be an alien or a monster, you look so cool. So for ease and comfort, for sure a mo-cap. But again I’ve been very lucky to play some pretty cool creatures and that’s an opportunity that I’d still love to do.

How familiar were you with The Umbrella Academy comic book series before being in the Netflix show?

Once I found out that I booked it, I thought, “This is really cool” and I began to trace it back and read as much as I could. That was my first exposure to the world, thinking it was so different and cool, and I’m very pleased with what the Netflix show did.

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A comic book series that’s different in all the right places. Source: Netflix

It’s such a beautiful extension to the world, and there are differences for sure, but it is pretty remarkable. Netflix did a great job with it, and it’s a beautifully shot show.

One of the best things about the series is its awesome soundtrack. Do you have a song on the soundtrack that you love the most, or that you’re personally attached to?

Well, it was really cool when we watched the screening of the first two episodes in LA back in February. I didn’t realise how much of the soundtrack really added to the show as well. One of my favourite moments in the whole series is in the first episode when everyone comes back to the house after many years and they’re all in their own place listening to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now”.

Easily one of my favourite scene in the series as well. Source: Netflix

I really feel like the music is almost like another character to the show. It’s one thing to read the script, but to see it all come together, I just feel like it really adds that much more to it.

I’m sure you’ve heard Spielberg’s statement a while back about how Netflix movies shouldn’t be eligible for Oscar awards. I’m curious to hear your opinion as someone who acts in Netflix films.

The work is the work, and the stories speak for themselves. Look at all the amazing possibilities and potential. I feel like whether it’s on a TV or a cinema, it’s kind of, we’re still creating really good art and that kind of author should be acknowledged even if it’s just in a different format for people. I want it to be very accessible because people do incredible work on Netflix.

How do you think streaming services like Netflix has helped paved the way for more creative freedom when it comes to projects or even comic book adaptations like Polar or The Umbrella Academy?

It’s great, we’re living in a really great time in terms of what’s possible for streaming services or even TV. It’s not formulaic anymore, they’re like little movies and the production is so fantastic and eclectic. As an actor, you’re like, “Wow this is great, there are so many stories and genres for people to tell their different stories”.

It was an absolute pleasure to interview Ken Hall. You can watch him on Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy or Polar now.

I love all things film and pop-culture. I make puns sometimes too.